Threatened Immigration Raids Haven’t Happened

Another case where the cruelty is the point?

For weeks, President Trump has been tweeting about a massive, nation-wide sweep to round up illegal aliens. Thus far, not much has happened.

NPR’s Bobby Allyn (“Trump’s Nationwide Immigration Raids Fail to Materialize“):

President Trump’s threatened roundup of undocumented immigrant families this weekend that set migrants in many communities on edge showed few signs of materializing on Sunday, the second time rumors of a large-scale immigration enforcement operation failed to come to fruition.

Instead, in the cities where rumors of mass raids swirled, many immigrants stayed inside their homes, as jitters turned typically vibrant migrant markets and commercial corridors eerily quiet.

Immigrant advocates across the country, meanwhile, took to the streets to demonstrate in protest of the promised roundup.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not confirm any arrests, nor would immigrant rights activists.

“The ACLU has not heard reports of any raids today,” Ruthie Epstein, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for immigration policy, told NPR.

Before Sunday, there were weekend reports of attempted arrests by ICE in New YorkNew Jersey and Chicago, where The New York Times reported that a mother and her daughters were apprehended but the family was immediately released. But those actions appeared to be part of routine enforcement activity, not connected to a massive raid operation.

Still, fears of ICE catching migrants by surprise sent many into hiding on Sunday.

In Miami, one of the cities anticipating the crackdown on immigrants, a hush fell over a market usually buzzing with activity among immigrant merchants and shoppers.

“People are clearly hiding. If you look around, it’s the people who are working are basically the only people here. But the majority of our clients are immigrants. Some with papers, others with no papers, but they are all scared,” Yohanna Gomez, a Honduran immigrant who runs a Central American stall at the market, told WLRN.

A similar scene played out in in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, typically bustling with immigrants from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. But on Sunday, the streets were noticeably calmer and vendors seemed to have taken the day off due to the threatened raids.


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Saturday that ICE had already attempted to make arrests in the city, but they were not successful.

Activists have been spreading the word to migrants to not open their doors if an immigration agents knocks, since they cannot use force to enter a residence.

In Chicago, another city where federal immigrants officials were expecting to conduct raids, streets in immigrant communities were scarcer than on a normal Sunday. Mayor Lori Lightfoot addressed the residents on the north side of Chicago before the raids were supposed to start.

“This is a community that has a diversity of people coming from all over the world,” she said. “There’s been a lot of rumors,” Lightfoot said. “Dangling this sword over peoples’ head is causing great harm and trauma to entire households, entire communities.”

The weekend operation was reportedly supposed to focus on immigrant families who have been sent final orders of removal after failing to appear in court. And top administration officials have argued that many of the estimated 2,000 migrants who fit this category have ignored requests to turn themselves in. President Trump originally set the nationwide raids for June before delaying the planned mass arrests in order to give Congress more time to hammer out changes to federal asylum law.

Granting that attributing tactical foresight to Trump’s actions is problematic, none of this makes much sense.

If Trump actually wanted to round up thousands people who are in the country illegally, then announcing the raids on Twitter would seemingly be the last thing he’d want to do. Surprise would make ICE’s job easier and safer.

Conversely, if the point of the tweets was to gin up excitement in the base, then failing to follow through is bizarre. They already thought Trump was on their side on the issue. But raising expectations of action and then not doing it should lead to disappointment. Now, Trump is just another politician talking tough about enforcing our immigration laws without actually doing it.

So, two possibilities come to mind.

First, the announcements have instilled tremendous anxiety among the target population. A New York Times report by Caitlin Dickerson, Nick Corasaniti and Edgar Sandoval (“ICE Launches Raids Targeting Migrant Families“) is mostly anecdotal but powerful on that score:

Though millions of people live in the United States without documentation and are periodically targeted for deportation, the latest raids are aimed primarily at families from Central America who have been arriving in large numbers since fall. With President Trump repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to slow the ongoing surge, the raids aim to deport parents and children who are not eligible to stay in the country — some within months after their arrival — as a way to deter others from coming.

A number of undocumented immigrants took measures over the weekend to avoid interacting with the authorities — staying home and not answering the door — but some will not have that option when the workweek begins on Monday, suggesting that agents may be more successful at making arrests.

“My boss said we should be on alert because ICE may show up, but I also have to go to work,” said Arcenio, an undocumented immigrant in the New York borough of Queens. He was standing on Roosevelt Avenue with his wife, Elizabeth, as a group of about 200 immigrant activists and politicians marched by, protesting the raids and chanting “Stand Up! Fight Back!”

“I can’t stay home all day,” Arcenio said. “My children need food. I need to pay rent. We have to keep living our lives. We know that there is a risk we won’t see our children when we close our apartment door. I really don’t want to think about it.”

Three of his American-born children — two boys, 12 and 8, and a 4-year-old girl — fidgeted next to the couple. Their youngest, a 2-month-old girl, rested in her baby carrier.

“The little ones don’t understand what’s happening, they are too young,” he said. “My oldest does. He watches the news and comes and asks me, ‘Dad, why do they want to separate us? Why do they want to deport you?'” Arcenio said with a sad smile. “He knows we don’t have papers. He’s afraid I may not come back every time I leave the house.”

So, maybe this is just a particularly cruel form of the “self-deportation” that Mitt Romney talked about in 2012. Maybe Trump hopes that the awful conditions in the border concentration camps and the fear created by the threatened raids will not only deter migration but even send people fleeing back across the border.

The other obvious effect of the repeated announcements, of course, has been to generate efforts to help the target population avoid capture by authorities. The NYT story again:

The plans for the operation were changed at the last minute because of news reports that had tipped off immigrant communities about what to expect, according to several current and former Department of Homeland Security officials. Instead of a large simultaneous sweep, the authorities created a secondary plan for a smaller and more diffuse scale of apprehensions to roll out over roughly a week. Individual ICE field offices were given the discretion to decide when to begin, one official said.

The first reports of ICE activity came in on Friday and Saturday. In Chicago, a mother was apprehended with her daughters, but the family was immediately released under supervision according to a person familiar with the operation. ICE agents approached at least one other home in the area, but the woman inside refused to answer the door, according to local news reports.


A teenager who lives with her parents in Passaic, N.J., said she was awakened at about 1 a.m. Sunday by a knock on the door from people she believed to be ICE agents. Having seen numerous “know your rights” posts on Instagram, she knew not to open it.

“They said, ‘We need to talk to you, can you come outside, can you open the door?’ I said, ‘Do you have permission to come inside my house, do you have a paper?'” she recounted. “They said, ‘We’re not trying to come inside your house, we just want to speak with you.’ And I said, ‘No I’m not coming outside.”


Early Sunday morning, about 30 volunteer “ICE chasers” had fanned out across the Atlanta suburbs, where many Latino immigrants live. But after nearly three hours without any reports of arrests, they returned to the offices of a local advocacy organization for coffee and doughnuts, saying they would start again on Monday morning.

Again, this was an obvious response and one that makes ICE’s job much harder and potentially more dangerous. And, again, it may simply be that Trump didn’t anticipate the obvious.

But maybe inciting this was a goal?

Dave Schuler, who’s more sympathetic to Trump’s goals but equally appalled by his methods, had this to say yesterday morning:

As long as those being apprehended are on final deportation orders, I think that Democratic politicians who’ve been quite vocal in their defense of these illegal migrants are overplaying their hands. When asylum requests are rejected those making the requests are by definition no longer “asylum-seekers”. These politicians need to be seen to be showing more sympathy for legal immigrants and American citizens than for those entering the country illegally.

Maybe Trump’s goal here is simply to force Democratic politicians to embrace what’s effectively an open borders policy and otherwise be seen to be on the side of those breaking our immigration laws and against American law enforcement agents doing their jobs? While I think he’s overplayed his hand in that regard—particularly with yesterday’s racist tweets about Democratic Congresswomen who are American citizens—he may well be achieving his desired effect.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Donald Trump
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Conversely, if the point of the tweets was to gin up excitement in the base, then failing to follow through is bizarre. They already thought Trump was on their side on the issue. But raising expectations of action and then not doing it should lead to disappointment.

    But it won’t. trump has lied repeatedly and promised the moon and the stars and never delivered either but the base doesn’t care, they just want to hear an echo of the nonsense in their heads and have their feelings of victimhood legitimized, even if it is by a known conman.

    Besides, trump can never fail, he can only be failed.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    Maybe Trump’s goal here is simply to force Democratic politicians to embrace what’s effectively an open borders policy and otherwise be seen to be on the side of those breaking our immigration laws and against American law enforcement agents doing their jobs?

    If he is smart enough to even come up with that…maybe he just has feet of clay and promises a lot of things that he can’t or won’t deliver on…and, of course, simply being cruel…

  3. James Joyner says:


    But it won’t. trump has lied repeatedly and promised the moon and the stars and never delivered either but the base doesn’t care,

    It’s one thing to rant about problems and take no action. Or to take stupid actions, like meaningless tariffs or trade wars or getting companies to agree to do what they were already going to do. But this is pretty concrete: either there are raids or there aren’t.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Either there is a wall or there isn’t. Either there is a great economic boom or there isn’t. Either there is a healthcare policy or there isn’t. Either there is peace on the Korean peninsula or there isn’t. Either there is a tamed Iran under new leadership or there isn’t. Either manufacturing jobs are coming back to the country or they aren’t. Ad nauseum.

    They. don’t. care.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: James, I’m with Ozark on this one. Trump’s base believes that we are a good way done building his wall, for chrissakes. That’s what they hear from him and the Fox News Republican media and everything else is fake news. They heard people being outraged about this and that was enough to convince them it had already happened.

  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    I was inclined to think of the same reason as Dave Schuler before I got to that part of the post. Steve Bannon used to say, “whenever the talk turns to immigration, we win.”

    By the way, people do turn against Trump, much as Dave Schuler has been described as doing. I know a few other acquaintances who did not stop being conservative, but think Trump is a dumbass. Looking at media besides Fox and other sources in the bubble seems to be the key.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I’m curious as to what evidence there is that Dave Schuler is ‘equally appalled.’ Schuler has recused himself from moral considerations of this presidency. There is no nastiness from this president that Dave doesn’t spin into a shot at Democrats. He used to care more about right and wrong, but some time around November 2016, he went silent. It’s a bit of a syndrome among older white people, this kind of shrug of the shoulders in the face of evil.

    @James Joyner and @Doug Mataconis and @Steven Taylor have all done a very good job of sincerely conveying their outrage at this racist regime. Schuler has not.

  8. Modulo Myself says:

    We’re talking about 30 ICE chasers vs ICE and undocumented immigrants or illegals or whatever you want to call them who are avoiding ICE while they go to work. This is not 1968, where rich kids with draft deferments were protesting and getting laid while poor kids were dying in Hue. This is Trump and his pathetic base vs normal life where people try to live and not hate everybody around them. Real people don’t live in this pathetic zero-sum world where if sympathy is shown to some poor refugee from El Salvador or Guatemala it’s a direct attack on honest Americans.

  9. KM says:

    @James Joyner:
    Sorry James but I’m with @Ozark and @Marked on this one. Trump-believers get fed believable (at least to them) lies that lead them to accept third options to binary choices. For God sake, FOX and Friends basically said Trump’s whole “go back where you came from” to native-born Americans was “LOL, he did a funny. Wasn’t that joke funny?” and viewers ran with it.

    The fact that no raids actually happened is immaterial – Trump said he’d do them, he’s “tough on immigration” so therefore he did something, maybe it was raids, idk I heard he did raids from somewhere so yeah even if they didn’t happen, they might have! FOX is their reality and depending on how this is spun (or ignored), Trumpkins can happily go on thinking Trump went ahead with his plan and all is well. 2+2=5 if you try hard enough, apparently.

  10. Blue Galangal says:

    @KM: This is it exactly. No amount of actual facts will ever convince them. If you want prima facie evidence, check out any given comment thread on the Boycott Ravelry Facebook page. These are almost all women in their 60s-70s who are marginally technologically conversant and they are spouting conspiracy theories and Tea Party dogma (that mostly originated on 4chan and 8chan – places they would never even be able to find in a million years) out the wazoo. While I can point and laugh with the best of them, underneath it all I am worried about the hold that the right wing media has on these people and the speed and celerity with which these lies are promulgated, and relieved that they are close to dying off.

  11. CSK says:

    Trumpkins appear not to have noticed these raids didn’t take place. I thought Trump promised to round up a million brown folk and evict them.

  12. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: I wonder if Trump thinks the raids happened.

  13. CDW says:

    The threat of raids are Trump’s sadism raising its ugly head. Scare them into self deporting, or otherwise disappearing and then enjoy the misery he afflicts. Pure and simple. I imagine his supporters fully understand the motives and the non-action.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Promising the moon and not delivering is a GOP ploy dating back to Reagan and banning abortion/human rights amendment and the list of “over one hundred unnecessary agencies and programs” [of which Reagan chose not a single one, ever, to eliminate from his proposed budgets]. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    My favorite story from yesterday’s raids was the one I saw on some news feed noting the in one place ICE agents discovered they had to go back home because they’d forgotten to bring search warrants–because they’d forgotten to ask for any.

  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    James, you’re being too rational. To the trumpistas, the raids happened. but the fake news press didn’t report it.

  17. I have to agree with those who think that that results don’t matter. Low information voters who like Trump likely think wall construction is underway (and being paid for by Mexico), that North Korea backed down and is denuclearizing, that we are winning the trade wars, and a host of other things.

    I do agree with James’ subtitle: cruelty is clearly a major part of the point.

  18. To add to the point: odds are good the FNC hyped the raids and then failed to hype the fact that they didn’t happen.